US gives mixed message on Australia

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Australia has not been included in a list of countries of 'concern' in the latest Special 301 report from the United States Trade Representative (USTR).

The USTR is that country's equivalent of Australia's trade department, which is part of the larger Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It produces the Special 301 Report every year as a review of the state of intellectual property protection and enforcement across its major trading partners.

Australia barely rates a mention in the report. Its exclusion might be considered a surprise given events of the past year, including the Trump administration's focus on US trade interests, the President's comments on pharmaceutical pricing, the active campaign by the US-based sector targeting Australia and the controversial recommendations of the Productivity Commission. Australia was also a key protagonist on pharmaceutical patents during negotiation of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, arguing against the US demand for a clear commitment on a longer data protection period for biologics.

Arguably, arrangements covering pharmaceutical patents in Australia have never been under such sustained attack, yet USTR has not used its key report on global intellectual property to express any concern.

The exclusion comes despite the outspoken campaign by PhRMA targeting Australia's position on pharmaceutical patents, specifically on its commitments in the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement and ongoing court action by government against companies in relation to unsuccessful patent cases.

The research-based sector has also convened an 'Australia Taskforce' comprised of US and Australian based company executives that has been tasked to work with the Trump administration on securing higher prices in Australia.

New Zealand's pharmaceutical purchasing agency rates a special mention in the new report for "among other things, the lack of transparency, fairness, and predictability of the PHARMAC pricing and reimbursement regime, as well as negative aspects of the overall climate for innovative medicines in New Zealand."